The Oceania U-19 women’s team were are a hit when they visited local school kids in Rarotonga, organised by the Cook Islands branch of the OFC Just Play Programme, ahead of the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship 2019 opening matches on Friday 30 August.
CIFA Just Play Project Manager Michelle Paiti, said the aim of the visits was to share Cook Islands culture with the visiting teams, as well as give them a glimpse into local school life.
“The schools are adopting the countries which visit them and will support them during their matches at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship.
Participating teams have visited three schools so far.
“The big school, Apii Avarua, hosted two countries , Samoa and Tonga on Monday and then Apii Te Uki Ou hosted Tahiti and today we are just waiting for Fiji at St Josephs catholic primary school”
“It’s really important not only for our girls but for our boys just to see that there are opportunities and pathways in football” she said
St Josephs Catholic Primary School students were overwhelmed to receive their adopted country Fiji.
“A large part of our school is actually a Fijian community, so while it is an adopted country here, that is where a lot of our students come from, so probably hence the excitement to see them come to our school. And also our girls are particularly excited as it’s great for them to see some female role models at our school” School Principal Shelley Berry said.
For Fiji’s Koleta Likuculacula, being welcomed by young children is such a humbling experience.
“Being the captain for this team this an exciting journey for me to be welcomed by this awesome school, I know we can do this with these awesome supporters here in cook islands who are all Fijians for now, but I know when we all go back, we’ll be all cook islanders”
A sentiment equally shared by her coach Sunil Kumar.
“I’d like to say the welcome was too good, we are so humbled to be coming here at St Josephs and the love that the kids have given to us and the organisation that the teachers have done, it just lifted the morale of the team.
“We can see all of our girls, they enjoyed it and at the same time we could see that the St Josephs students, they all enjoyed this moment so it was the best moment for them.” Kumar said
The Tahiti women’s U-19 team, Hine Taure’a were invited to Apii Te Uki Ou for a cultural exchange with the students on Tuesday.
“Both Tahiti and the students of Apii Te Uki Ou thoroughly enjoyed their one-hour visit, although they got carried away sharing their cultures so they didn’t have time to play football activities. It was a great opportunity to show the young girls and boys some new role models.
“The school is very excited about coming to support Tahiti.” Paiti said.
The Hine Taure’a players were equally excited about the chance to explore and get to know the locals a bit better.
“I had a great morning with the children,” said midfielder Vahuariki Tufaunui.
“It was such a great welcome on their part and the warm, festive ambiance was felt. It’s important to take part in an experience like this because it allows us to discover how they live, and it’s always a source of joy and personal well-being.
“I found it to be an incredible experience because we could exchange, and show off our culture to people from the Cook Islands. We can see there’s some similarities in the dancing and some of the words they use in their songs.”
For Vahuariki’s teammate Tiarehinano Tekakioteragi exchanging cultures with the young students in the Cook Islands was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the team which made it important and special.
“An experience like this doesn’t come around often, maybe it’s only once in our lifetime, so it was important to participate,” she said.
“I was moved, it gave me goose bumps, if the opportunity ever comes up again I wouldn’t say no.”